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Archive for the ‘Governor’s Office’ Category

In 2013, the Louisiana Legislature passed and Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law House Bill 703 which mandated that any state unclassified (appointive) employee earning $100,000 or more must be a bona-fide resident of the gret stet of Looziana.

The bill, which would become Act 264 of 2013 and which now goes by Louisiana Revised Statute 42:31, passed the HOUSE easily enough by a 70-20 margin with 15 members ducking out on the vote.

In the SENATE, however, it was quite another story with the bill squeaking through by a razor-thin 20-17 vote with two senators joining their 15 counterparts in the House in not voting.

The author of HB 703? That would be then-State Rep. John Bel Edwards.

Here are the specific provisions of the ACT:

  • Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, any person hired or employed in an unclassified position as defined by the State Civil Service Commission, and whose annual salary or rate of compensation is equal to, or exceeds one hundred thousand dollars, shall, within thirty days of being hired or employed at such salary, provide proof to his public employer that he has been issued a Louisiana driver’s license and that all vehicles registered in his name are registered in Louisiana.  This requirement shall be deemed a qualification for the position for which the person was employed or hired, and for the duration of the person’s employment in the event the person’s salary is increased and the requirements of this Section are triggered.
  • All government agencies which hire or employ any person in an unclassified position as defined by the State Civil Service Commission, whose annual salary or rate of compensation is equal to, or exceeds one hundred thousand dollars, shall verify that such person has been issued a Louisiana driver’s license and that all vehicles registered in his name are registered in Louisiana.  The public employer shall verify the employee meets this requirement for the duration of this person’s employment.
  • Any person hired or employed in an unclassified position who does not meet the requirements of this Section, or who no longer meets the requirements of this Section, shall be removed and terminated within thirty days of the public employer learning such person does not meet the requirements of this Section.

Credit for the introduction and subsequent passage of the law has to go to the late C.B. Forgotston who spearheaded a one-man campaign against state government parking garages crammed with vehicles bearing out-of-state license plates.

C.B. took it as a personal affront that Louisiana tax dollars were being used to hire employees from other states who wouldn’t even bother to register their vehicles in Louisiana. His reasoning was the workers were perfectly willing to take money from the state but weren’t willing to pay their fair share of taxes by simply registering their cars here.

One of the biggest offenders, he learned, was the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE).

Of course, not all the out-of-state employees were pulling down a hundred grand a year but there was this one guy that LouisianaVoice had occasion to write about.

His name was David Lefkowith, though his friends just call him Lefty.

When they see him, that is. Trouble is, he is considered a ghost by some of his co-workers who assumed he was long gone from LDOE. That’s because he doesn’t appear at the LDOE offices in the Claiborne Building across from the State Capitol.

You see, Lefty resides in Los Angeles and commutes to Louisiana if and when he has occasion to drop in to pick up an Enterprise rental at Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans and visit educational centers in Houma, Natchitoches, Lafayette, and Shreveport—but rarely Baton Rouge.

When LouisianaVoice first had occasion to write about Lefty back in 2012, he was knocking down $145,000 a year as something called the Director of the Office of Portfolio.

Act 264 of 2013 threw a monkey wrench in State Education Superintendent John White’s decision to pay Lefty $145,000 and when LouisianaVoice did a story recently about all the unclassified employees at LDOE pulling down $100,000 or more per year, a couple of LDOE employees expressed curiosity to LouisianaVoice as to why his salary was cut $45,000, to $100,000. LEFKOWITH IS NUMBER 197 on the list provided LouisianaVoice.

Well, truth be told, it was cut $45,000.10 to $99,999.90. That put him at a dime below the $100,000 threshold and allowed him to slither under the door.

That is a little trick White probably learned from Jindal who had a cute habit of issuing contracts of $49,999 in order to avert the requirement for proposals, or bids, for all contracts of $50,000 and above.

Still, commuting back and forth between California and Louisiana on a $100,000 salary doesn’t make much sense. It just doesn’t seem a sound fiscal decision unless LDOE pays for his flights back and forth.

Not so, says White.

I made a public records request for all expense payments made to Lefty and I also sent the following email to White:

From: Tom Aswell
Date: Friday, May 25, 2018 at 10:51 AM
To: John White <John.White@la.gov>
Subject: LEFKOWITH

John, for an employee no one in LDOE seems to remember seeing around the office, you certainly have paid him quite a tidy sum in travel and lodging expenses. I have a couple of questions in that regard:

  • How is he allowed to be a full-time employee of LDOE (at $100K per year) and reside in California?
  • What are his precise duties at LDOE. Please be specific?
  • What are his qualifications that you are apparently unable to find in a Louisiana resident?
  • Did you know him before he was brought into LDOE?
  • Does LDOE withhold state income taxes for Louisiana or California?

To his credit, White responded rather promptly, the very next day (a Saturday), in fact:

From: John White <John.White@la.gov>
Sent: Saturday, May 26, 2018 11:02 AM
To: Tom Aswell
Subject: Re: LEFKOWITH

Here is the web site that lists what Dave has developed and leads at the Department: https://www.louisianabelieves.com/courses/all-things-jump-start.

Dave attended Yale University as an undergraduate and Stanford University for business school. He spent more than 30 years as a management consultant across a wide array of industries.  The work outlined above is unique among states and speaks to his capacity to lead the mission with which he has been charged. I was not familiar with him prior to becoming state superintendent.

Dave pays taxes in both states and is reimbursed for work-related travel within the state, as other state staff are. He pays his own commuting costs.

Thanks for the note.

John

As for Lefty’s management consultant duties, one of those was an ill-fated plan, uncovered by reporters Michael Pollock and Chris Davis of the Sarasota (Florida) Herald-Tribune (Davis would move on to become leader of a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team at the Tampa Bay Times in St. Petersburg).

In 1998, when Jeb Bush was running for governor of Florida, Enron, then a fast-rising Houston energy broker, was in the process of diversifying into the potentially profitable new field of water supply privatization through a subsidiary called Azurix Corp.

Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) David Struhs, a Bush appointee, was simultaneously promoting two concepts on behalf of Azurix: auctioning off blocks of water to the highest bidders and obtaining underground water and storing it for later withdrawal through a process called aquifer storage and recovery (ASR).

Enron sank $900 million in Azurix, hoping to duplicate the proposed action in two other states, California and Enron’s home state of Texas, as well as in South America. Ultimately, however, Enron lost $500 million when the project failed to materialize, eventually selling what was left of the company in 2001 to American Water Works as a precursor to the eventual collapse of Enron.

Struhs also pushed another project to deregulate energy in Florida and to open the state to competition by allowing companies to build power plants, using existing power lines for the purpose of selling electricity to the highest bidding utility or other customers.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with Struhs was his good friend, David “Lefty” Lefkowith, president of Canyon Group, Inc., of Los Angeles.

Back in 1991, President George H. Bush named 23 industrialists and environmentalists to the President’s Commission on Environmental Quality and named Struhs to run the commission. One of the 23 commission appointees was then-Enron CEO Kenneth Lay.

When Bush lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton in 1992, Struhs went to work for Lefkowith as vice president of Canyon Group. Lefkowith has represented as many as 60 different electric power companies through his company.

By 1998, Struhs was working for Jeb Bush and Lefkowith was on board with the ill-conceived Florida water privatization project. “I don’t think water is so damn special,” he said at the time. “If you let markets take over, you’d find water was cheaper, there would be more of it, and customers would be better served.” He neglected to explain how water quantity would increase.

Fast forward to 2002 and Struhs and Lefkowith were back at the forefront of market manipulation in Florida at the behest of Jeb Bush, but by now, their dealings were with electric power companies. Struhs was DEP Secretary and Jeb Bush had set up Energy 2020 Commission, a group assembled to study deregulation.

This time when Struhs brought him in as a consultant, Lefkowith was given unlimited access to all the emails of Bush’s Energy 2020 Commission members and staffers even though most of the 2020 commissioners never heard of him, never saw him (sound familiar?) and never knew he access to their correspondence.

On Feb. 4, 2001, Struhs’ deputy chief of staff, Mollie Palmer, ordered a half-dozen top DEP employees to start sending Energy 2020 Commission documents to Lefkowith with emails from Energy 2020 Chairman Walter Revell or from commission executive director Billy Stiles to be “forwarded to Lefty upon receipt.”

After receiving a copy of that memo, Pollock and Davis requested copies of all documents sent to Lefkowith but DEP officials responded that no documents existed. (That sounds much like the responses received by Capitol News Service from the Division of Administration and from the Louisiana governor’s office.)

“Who is this guy to get this information?” asked Florida Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe. “From the tone and tenor of these emails and communications, he is directing energy policy (for the state). What authority does he have to do that? And for what purpose?”

Democratic State Sen. Kip Campbell of Tarmarac was even less forgiving of the practice. “Suppose I was sending letters to Struhs, like ‘here is my thought process on what we are going to do legislatively.’ And Lefkowith knows this ahead of time. Lefkowith might be working for Calpine and all those other companies and selling that knowledge for profit. I’d be willing to wager he probably was.”

Lefkowith also attended strategy sessions with Gov. Jeb Bush to discuss findings of the Energy 2020 Commission.

In addition, he lobbied Florida utility representatives in private meetings on the issue of building power plants in order to broker power sales.

He would later use the information he had obtained as confidant to Struhs and Jeb Bush to wrangle a consulting job with the Florida PSC.

So, yes, Lefkowith has worked with a lot of different entities but appears to have trouble remaining at one job for very long.

Now about White’s claim that Lefty pays his own commuting costs.

A check of his travel, lodging and meal expense reports provided by LDOE pursuant to our public records request turned up a couple of interesting tidbits, not the least of which was that the records appear to be incomplete with Lefkowith claiming many days of travel in Enterprise vehicles but hotel expense records that can only be described as spotty and sporadic with a lot of gaps. Accommodations for days at a stretch are unaccounted for.

From 2013 through current available 2018 dates, travel records show that LDOE has shelled out more than $21,880 for auto rentals, meals, lodging, and airplane flights to Austin, Texas, Cincinnati, and New Jersey.

On one occasion, on September 3, 2013, he drove an Enterprise rental vehicle 833 miles from New Orleans to Houma and Shreveport and back and even though he was in a rental, he charged LDOE for 99 miles at 51 cents per mile, collecting $50.49 in mileage. (Note: at the time, state regulations allowed employees to be reimbursed for a maximum of 99 miles traveled in personal vehicles as a means to encourage them to drive state vehicles. Regulations do not permit mileage payments while driving rentals.)

In July 2017 Lefkowith rented an Enterprise vehicle for 21 days, paid for by LDOE, and drove the car, a Chrysler Pacifica, from his Los Angeles home to New Orleans, a distance of 1,169 miles on your dime—$609.94 in dimes, to be precise.

So much for White’s claim that Lefkowith pays his own commuting expenses.

For that matter, the idea of paying his own commuting expenses on a $100,000 (oops, sorry. $99,999.90) per year salary just doesn’t make sense.

It’s enough to make one wonder just how many expense reports requested by LouisianaVoice were not forthcoming.

Surely any omissions were simply oversights.

 

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He probably won’t make the formal announcement of his candidacy for governor until September or October, but make no mistake about it, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy is in full campaign mode. If there had been in lingering doubts before, that much was made evident Wednesday by his inappropriate yet totally predictable CALL for Robert Mueller to end his investigation of the man on whose coattails Kennedy ran for—and won—his senate seat.

This was more than Kennedy’s typical down-home, cornball, Will Rogers country feed store philosophy that he is so proud to bestow and which TV reporters are so eager to foist upon their viewers. This was pure, old-fashion political sycophancy at its very worst.

Someone recently said the most dangerous place in Washington was to stand between Kennedy and a TV camera but his toadyism is both shabby and shameful in its transparent attempt to please Donald Trump and to cash in on Trump’s inexplicable popularity with Louisiana voters.

Inexplicable because everything—and I mean everything—the man stands for goes against the interests of the most vocal of his supporters. All you have to do to verify that claim is to compare his record with his actions. Instead, his supporters choose to listen to his rants and to read his sophomoric tweets which stand in stark contrast to his official actions behind the scene:

  • Safe drinking water? Who needs it?
  • Consumer protection? Why?
  • The former head of the Bank of Cyprus, a leading conduit for Russian money laundering is now Secretary of Commerce so you do the math.
  • Medical care? Hmph.
  • Employee benefits like pensions and overtime pay? Nah.
  • Net neutrality? Don’t need it, don’t want it, can’t use it (besides, that was an Obama policy so, out it goes).
  • Tax reform? You bet—for the wealthy.
  • Protection of endangered wildlife? Hell, there must be a hundred species of animals out there. That’s way too many.
  • Banking regulations to avoid another recession like we had in 2008? Just signed off on the rollback of Dodd-Frank, thank you very much.
  • The head of EPA is less concerned about protecting the environment than in enriching himself with European vacation trips on your dime and installing $45,000 soundproof phone booths in his office and blaming his staff whenever he gets caught wasting taxpayer funds.

Nixon was a crook, Lyndon Johnson lied us into an unwinnable war that cost 58,000 American lives, Bill Clinton had a basketful of scandals, and George W. Bush lied to us about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, but I daresay Trump is far and above the biggest crook—and the most ill-prepared to be president—who ever occupied the Oval Office. There will be those who will deny that to the death, but it doesn’t change the facts.

And before you call me a wild-eyed liberal or something worse, keep this in mind: I was a Republican longer than a lot of you have been alive. I was a Republican when we could caucus in a telephone booth. But I didn’t leave the party, it left me. It took me a long time, but I finally saw what the Republican Party stood for and it wasn’t for any of the things that I learned from the Bible—things like charity, understanding, kindness, compassion, taking care of the sick, and feeding the hungry. You know, Christian virtues the evangelicals claim to espouse but who instead turn around and condone, encourage even, the most unchristian behavior imaginable. We call that hypocrisy where I come from.

At various times, Trump has:

  • Told us not to the trust the FBI;
  • Told us not to trust the Justice Department;
  • Told us not to trust the free press, and
  • Told us not to trust the courts.

These are the only institutions that can hold him accountable and he is trying to undermine every single one of them. If that doesn’t worry you, it damn well should.

So, in order to appease Trump and his followers in Louisiana, and apparently in order to solidify his support for a gubernatorial run in 2019, Kennedy slobbers all over himself in calling for Mueller to end his investigation “because it distracts in time, energy and taxpayer money.”

And Trump’s governance by tweets is not a distraction? His constant reversals of positions are not a waste of time, energy and taxpayer money?

Trump reminds me of an editorial cartoon I spotted this week:

  • He doesn’t believe the intelligence agencies;
  • He doesn’t support the rule of law;
  • He doesn’t support the special counsel;
  • He doesn’t support the mission of federal regulators;
  • He doesn’t support the right to demonstrate peaceably;
  • He has no concern about the integrity of fair elections;
  • He doesn’t care about the “huddled masses.”

Hell no. He’s a true patriot.

And Kennedy is sucking up to him in grand fashion.

Kennedy, you cited a laundry list of things that need to be done. I seem to remember that when you ran for the senate, there were things you were going to work for. But now it seems you are beginning to “distract in time, energy and taxpayer money” by running for governor when you should be doing your job—kind of like the way you criticized Bobby Jindal for running for president when he should have been tending to his job as governor. You sounded so sensible when you criticized Bobby for not doing his job and yet…

But just for the sake of argument, let’s compare the distraction that you claim the Mueller investigation of one year—one year, John—has become with past INVESTIGATIONS investigations and the presidents. We’ll start with the granddaddy of ‘em all:

  • Watergate (Nixon): 4 years, the resignation of a president and more than 20 indictments/pleas;
  • Michael Deaver perjury charges (Reagan): A shade over three years and one indictment;
  • Iran-Contra (Reagan): six and one-half years and 14 indictments/pleas;
  • Lyn Nofziger improper lobbying (Reagan): About 16 months, two indictments/pleas;
  • Samuel Pierce influence peddling (H.W. Bush): Almost nine years (and he was only in office for four): 18 indictments/pleas;
  • Whitewater/Paula Jones/Monica Lewinski (Clinton): Seven years, 15 indictments/pleas, impeachment of a president (acquitted);
  • Mike Espy gifts (Clinton): Seven years, 13 indictments/pleas;
  • Henry Cisneros perjury charges (Clinton): Nine years, 8 indictments/pleas;
  • Alexis Herman influence-peddling (Clinton): Two years, one indictment/plea;
  • Valerie Plame leaks (George W. Bush): Three years, one indictment/plea;
  • Russia (Trump): One year, John, just ONE YEAR, and more indictments/pleas already than you can count.

In case you weren’t counting, John, that’s four separate investigations costing $80 million during Clinton’s administration. I’m not saying they weren’t warranted because they were. But I don’t recall anyone ever saying those investigations should’ve been shut down.

So, John, why don’t you read up on Will Rogers, do a few more hominy and grits folksy quotes and leave the real work to those charged with doing the job?

Or maybe come up with another ad about drinking weed killer for your gubernatorial campaign.

 

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If you like political posturing, puffery, bombast, and breast-beating, then the reaction to that LETTER being sent out to 37,000 nursing home patients in Louisiana is tailor-made for political junkies like you.

The letter, sent out by the Louisiana Department of Health, got the desired reaction. CBS Evening News featured the story prominently in its Wednesday newscast, complete with a brief interview with Jim Tucker of Terrytown, operator of about a dozen nursing homes.

It’s interesting that Tucker was sought out for camera face time. He was Bobby Jindal’s Speaker of the House who abetted Jindal for eight years in gutting the state budget of services for the elderly and mentally ill. And now the roll him out in front of the cameras to cry wolf.

The Edwards administration tried to assure us, through Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne and LDH Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee, that this is not Chicken Little, that the sky really will fall if budget cuts are not restored by July 1, the date that the state is projected to fall over the metaphorical fiscal cliff when $650 million in tax revenue falls off the books.

Typically, the reaction by Republicans in the legislature, the same ones who have steadfastly refused to face fiscal reality since the beginning of the Jindal accident in 2008, was to scream foul to anyone who would listen—and there were plenty who did.

Dr. Gee, of course, did her part, even tearing up as she explained to the TV cameras that hearts “are breaking over the need to do this. We can’t provide services with no money to pay for them.”

Dardenne added his bit, saying, “This letter is scary, but it’s not a tactic. This is the reality that we are facing.”

But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) gave the best performance. With a lock of hair hanging down over his forehead a-la the late Bobby Kennedy, he bleated, “This is premature at best, reckless at worst,” adding that the letter was designed “to scare the elderly of this state, and that is an embarrassment.” No, Cameron, you’re an embarrassment.

Ditto for Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), chairman of the House Republican Delegation, who called the letter an “unnecessary political scare tactic done to intimidate and frighten the most vulnerable people into believing they will be kicked out onto the streets if the governor doesn’t get everything he wants in the form of revenue.”

And Cameron Henry should understand that the legislature as a body is no less an embarrassment to those of us who have been forced to observe its collective ineptitude on a daily basis for 10 years now. To quote my grandfather, they couldn’t find a fart in a paper bag.

Lost in all the rhetoric is the hard fact that the administration might not have found it necessary to send out the letter—regardless whether it’s a scare tactic or reality—had the legislature made any effort to face up to its responsibility to the 4.5 million citizens of this state.

But here’s the real reality—and just remember where you read it:

Not a single nursing home patient is going to be evicted. Not one.

Want to know why?

Money.

And I don’t mean money to be appropriated by the legislature to properly fund state government, nursing homes included.

I’m talking about campaign money.

Lots of it. Tons of it.

Since 2014, individual nursing homes, nursing home owners, and nursing home political action committees have contributed more than $750,000 to Louisiana politicians, primarily legislators. Here is just a partial list of NURSING HOME CONTRIBUTIONS

And that’s just over the past four years.

More than $50,000 was contributed the campaign of Edwards.

Henry, the one who called out the administration for its “scare tactics,” received more than $10,000 since 2014.

Senate President John Alario also received more than $12,000 over the same time span.

Louisiana Public Service Commission member Foster Campbell said on the Jim Engster show on Louisiana Public Radio earlier this week that since he first ran for the legislature more than 40 years ago, the cost of seeking political office has become cost prohibitive. Foster said when he first ran for the State Senate in 1975, he borrowed $7,500 to finance his campaign. “Now, it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars” and the average person who wants to serve cannot afford to do so, he said.

I’ve always wondered why corporations and the wealthy who seem so concerned about “good government” don’t use their money to help others rather than lavish it on politicians. The money they throw at politicians and lobbyists could be put to such more productive use—but they don’t try because they don’t really care about good government. And every now and then, I can’t help wondering why that is.

But I don’t wonder about it long. The answer is obvious: power and influence.

And that’s a sorry commentary on our political system, from the local level all the way to the very top of the political pyramid.

And it’s for that reason that not a single nursing home resident will be evicted. By some miracle, repeated every year, it seems, extra money will be “found” to do what is politically expedient.

Because the money has already been spread around by those who buy influence and legislators.

Remember where you read it.

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If you would like a crystal-clear example of the disdain with which elected officials hold their constituency, those people whose interests they are elected to serve, you need look no further than SENATE BILL 365 by Sen. Rick Ward (R-Port Allen).

The bill, which gives Louisiana’s payday loan industry an opportunity to dig its spurs a little deeper into the very people who can lease afford it, was passed in the Senate on Monday by a 20-17 VOTE, with two members not voting.

Of the 20 who voted in favor of the bill, 13 have received campaign contributions totaling $43,250 (an average of $3,327 each) since 2011. Three of those, Daniel Martiny, R-Metairie ($9,500), Body White, R-Central ($9,000) and Gary Smith, D-Norco ($7,950), averaged $8,817 each.

Other recipients included:

  • Conrad Appel, R-Metairie: $4,000;
  • Wesley Bishop, D- New Orleans: $1500;
  • Norby Chabert, R-Houma: $2500;
  • Dale Erdy, R-Livingston: $1000
  • Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles: $3000;
  • Eric Lafleur, D-Ville Platte: $1500;
  • Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton: $500;
  • Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City: $1500;
  • Ed Price, D-Gonzales: $1000;
  • Rick Ward, R-Port Allen: $2300.

Fourteen of the 17 senators who voted against the bill also received a combined total of $34,500, or an average of $2,464 each, campaign finance records show.

They included:

  • Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego: $7000;
  • Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge: $1000;
  • Page Cortez, R-Lafayette: $4500;
  • Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville: $500;
  • Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro: $2000;
  • Gerald Long, R-Winnfield: $2500;
  • Dan Morrish, R-Jennings: $2500;
  • Jonathan Perry, R-Kaplan: $1500;
  • Neil Riser, R-Columbia: $2500;
  • John Smith, R-Leesville: $5000;
  • Leon Tarver, D-Shreveport: $1000;
  • Francis Thompson, D-Delhi: $1500;
  • Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe: $2000.

Good on them for not cratering to the influence of campaign bucks but the overriding question remains: Why do candidates even accept money from these type sources when they know full well their motives?

The bill, if approved by the House and signed by Gov. Edwards who received $6,500 himself from payday loan contributors, would create the Louisiana Credit Access Loan Act, which would allow lenders to issue new payday loans from $500 to $875 for terms of three to 12 months. Present law limits loans to $350 for up to 60 days.

The bill also doubles the annual percentage rate on loans that can be made.

Proponents of the bill say that payday lenders provided a needed service to low-income borrowers who are unable to obtain traditional loans. But what they do not say is that such loans carry a $131 origination fee and 85 percent APR. Ward’s bill would increase the fees to $270 and the annual interest rate to 167 percent.

Jan Moller, director of the Louisiana Budget Project argues that Louisiana’s lower-income citizens upon whom payday loan companies prey, cannot afford triple-digit interest rates, adding that the bill is being pushed by more than a dozen “well-connected lobbyists” who he said are selling “a false narrative.” He said the bill is an example of “greed and arrogance at the highest level.”

The finest legislators money can buy, folks.

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Something happening here,

What it is ain’t exactly clear

 

The 1967 Buffalo Springfield Vietnam War protest song, For What It’s Worth could be applicable to just about any scenario in Louisiana politics but probably never more so than with HOUSE BILL 727 by State Rep. Major Thibaut (D-New Roads).

Thibaut, posing as a Democrat but appearing to be anything but, apparently wants to repeal the FIRST AMENDMENT which guarantees American citizens the right of peaceful assembly.

HB 727, which has 50 additional co-authors in the House and 14 in the Senate, would amend an existing statute in accordance with the dictates of the AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL (ALEC), which long ago wormed its way into the Republican mindset as a means of advancing its agenda.

That agenda, of course, works hand-in-hand with that of corporate America—big oil, big banks, big pharma, charter schools, and private prisons, among others—to the overall detriment of those who ultimately foot the bill—the working stiffs of middle America who continue to convince themselves that their interests are compatible.

The bottom line is this: if the corporate giants are shelling out millions upon millions of dollars to lobby lawmakers and to finance their campaigns, you can bet they’re in bed together. And when they whisper sweet nothings in each other’s ear, they ain’t discussing how to make your life easier.

And that’s HB 727 and ALEC are all about. While the seemingly innocuous bill appears only to lay out penalties for trespassing onto “critical infrastructure,” and to include “pipelines” or “any site where the construction or improvement of any facility or structure…is occurring” to the definition of critical infrastructure, the wording of the bill includes subtle landmines designed to discourage otherwise legal protests.

For instance, while criminal trespass and criminal damage has long been considered a violation of the law, the bill adds this provision:

“Any person who commits the crime of criminal damage to a critical infrastructure wherein it is foreseeable that human life will be threatened or operations of a critical infrastructure will be disrupted as a result of such conduct shall be imprisoned at hard labor for not less than six years nor more than 20 years, fined not more than $25,000, or both.”

There’s a man with a gun over there

Telling me I got to beware

The key phrase here is “wherein it is foreseeable…”

This is a pretty subjective call on someone’s part. Just who decides what is “foreseeable”?

And then there is the conspiracy clause that’s added to the bill.

HB 727, which passed the HOUSE by an overwhelming 97-3 vote with five members absent, provides if “two or more” person conspire to violate the statute, each “shall be imprisoned with or without hard labor for not more than five years, fined not more than $10,000, or both.”

Just what would constitute a “conspiracy” in this case? Well, it could mean the simple discussion of possible trespass. Whatever it is, the word “foreseeable” is thrown into the mix again. So, a protest in the proximity of pipeline construction could conceivably be construed by an ambitious prosecutor as “conspiracy” and any discussion during such a protest could become a conspiracy.

Besides being yet another windfall for the private prisons, this bill is nothing more than a means to discourage protests over pipeline construction through sensitive areas such as the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, a joint venture of Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66 (keep those names in mind; they’ll come up again later).

It’s also an obvious effort to placate ALEC and the oil and gas industry that has held this state, its governors and legislators captive for a century. The political leaders of this state, from the governor on down, won’t go to the bathroom without permission from Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, which boasts on its WEB PAGE that it is “Louisiana’s longest-standing trade association” (read: lobbying arm of the petroleum industry).

There’s battle lines being drawn;

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong

What’s not difficult to believe is the motivation behind nearly half of the bill’s sponsors.

Of the 51 representatives and 14 senators who signed on as co-authors of the bill, 31 (23 representatives and eight senators) combined to rake in $62,500 in contributions from Transfer Partners and Phillips 66 since January 2011.

ENERGY TRANSFER PARTNERS CONTRIBUTIONS

PHILLIPS 66 CONTRIBUTIONS

Phillips also gave $3,500 to Senate President John Alario and Energy Transfer Partners chipped in another $4,000. Additionally, Energy Transfer Partners gave $4,000 to then-Sen. Robert Adley of Bossier Parish who was appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards as Executive Director of the Louisiana Offshore Terminal Authority, $2,000 to then-Rep. Jim Fannin of Jonesboro who served as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee at the time.

Energy Transfer Partners also contributed $5,000 to Edwards, who is on record as SUPPORTING the Bayou Bridge project, and Phillips 66 added another $5,500.

Thibaut was not one of those. But he did specialize in accepting campaign contributions from more than 40 political action committees—including several aligned with energy interests. In all, he pulled in $105,000 from PACs since 2008, campaign records show.

Those PACs included such diverse interests as dentists, bankers, payday loan companies, optometrists, insurance, student loans, pharmaceutical companies, sugar, realtors, and nursing homes, to name only a few.

EASTPAC, WESTPAC, NORTHPAC, and SOUTHPAC, four PACs run by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) combined to $13,750 to Thibaut, records show, while the Louisiana Manufacturers PAC gave $11,000.

With that money stacked against them, the Bayou Bridge pipeline opponents are fighting an uphill battle, especially with leaders like Edwards already having publicly endorsed the project.

The end game, of course, is to head off a repeat of STANDING ROCK, the largest Native American protest movement in modern history over the construction of a 1,170-mile Dakota Access pipeline, of which the BAYOU BRIDGE project through the Atchafalaya Basin is a part. Opponents of the 162-mile Bayou Bridge project—from St. James Parish to Calcasieu Parish—say would harm the area’s delicate ecosystem.

Standing Rock was an ugly scene, further illustrative of how this country has time after time ripped land, basic human rights and dignity from the country’s original inhabitants, inhabitants who weren’t even recognized as American citizens until 1924 even though more than 12,000 fought for this country in World War I.

Standing Rock apparently was such a national emergency that St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne, at the time President of the National Sheriffs’ Association, found it necessary to visit Standing Rock in 2016 and to write a lengthy self-serving account in the association’s online PRESIDENT’S PODIUM of the carnage he witnessed at the hands of the protestors whom he described in less than glowing terms.

His article prompted a lengthy REBUTTAL by Cherri Foytlin, state Director of BOLD LOUISIANA in Rayne and Monique Verdin, a citizen of the UNITED HOUMA NATION, who also were at Standing Rock. It’s difficult to believe, after reading the two missives, that they were at the same place, witnessing the same events play out.

What a field day for the heat;

A thousand people in the street

Singing songs and carrying signs

Mostly saying, “hooray for our side.”

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